Control & Crisis in Colonial Kenya: The Dialectic of Domination

By Bruce Berman | Go to book overview

Ten
State, Capital and Class
The Real Colonial Legacy

Reflecting on this study I am struck by the two very different and apparently contradictory faces of the colonial state in Kenya that it depicts. On the one hand, there is the 'weak' state, the paternalistic mediator struggling to maintain a precarious sovereignty over the contending interests of colonial society. Constantly strapped for resources, constrained by metropolitan insistence on fiscal self- sufficiency, plagued by poor communications and inadequate information and possessing only limited coercive force, it appears as a facade of power, sustained by a delicate game of bluff and wit combining exhortation and threat with the cooptation and accommodation of indigenous social forces. Rather than being the agent of change, the colonial state was fearful of the consequences of change emanating from social forces over which it had little effective control. Acting always with caution and restraint, obsessed with the maintenance of control, the colonial state was prone to stagnation or rudderless drifting through ad hoc responses to immediate exigencies. Colonial order was ultimately a 'close run thing', constantly threatened by crisis and struggle. On the other hand, however, there is the 'strong' colonial state, the potent bureaucratic agent of imperialism. By coercion, indirect pressure and material inducement it smashed the self-sufficiency of indigenous precapitalist societies and managed their articulation with metropolitan capital. Its continually expanding apparatus intervened in ever-wider areas of the colonial political economy, directing change to serve the interests of metropolitan (or, in the case of Kenya, settler) capital, and containing and suppressing indigenous social forces. This state was a powerful instrument of political domination and structural transformation.

The point to be made here, of course, is that there is no choice to be made between these images of the colonial state. Both are true as the two faces of a single reality. In a real sense the purpose of this study has been

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